Friday, 4 May 2012

Akshaya Tritiya: Hotbed of child marriages

On the auspicious day of 'Akshaya Tritiya', thousands of child brides become victims of early marriage in India.

"I am one of those unfortunate Hindu women whose hard lot is to suffer the unnameable miseries entailed by the custom of early marriage. This wicked practice of child marriage has destroyed the happiness of my life. It comes between me and the things which I prize above all others - study and mental cultivation. Without the least fault of mine, I am doomed to seclusion; every aspiration of mine to rise above my ignorant sisters is looked down upon with suspicion and is interpreted in the most uncharitable manner..."
- Extract from a letter written by a woman named Rukhmabai to The Times of India on June 26, 1885, reproduced in Child Marriage in India: Socio-legal and Human Rights Dimensions, by Jaya Sagade (Oxford University Press, 2005).

This is not just the case of one Rukhmabai. There are hundreds of thousands of Rukhmabais who fall victim to early marriage. In fact, UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2012 report says that more than 40 per cent of the world's child marriages happen in India.

More than 60 million women across the world now aged between 20 and 24 years were married before they turned 18. Even though the extent of early marriage varies from countries and regions, the highest rate is found in West Africa, followed by South Asia.

"About half the girls in early marriage live in Southeast Asia," the WHO said in the Geneva meet last month.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chair of The Elders, who was in Bihar, India, in February 2012, said that child marriage is "a practice that robs millions of girls of their childhood, their rights and their dignity. I find it astounding that this issue does not receive far greater attention. Together, we and our partners commit to working together to end it."

The numbers are different in urban versus rural areas. According to the Union health ministry's Family Welfare Statistics 2011, "for every woman aged below 18 getting married in urban centres, three women are getting married in rural areas".

Read more here.